An overview of a potential blockbuster Amazon TV show includes this paragraph about how the television rights continued:
At the time of Judkins’s pitch, the screen rights to The Wheel of Time were just coming out of a byzantine and uniquely Hollywood maze—the books had been optioned by two former tech guys, who in turn licensed the rights to Universal, which developed the series as a feature and then shelved it. Then the tech guys enlisted two new producers, Mike Weber and Ted Field. In time, they noticed an obscure provision in the contract, as Weber recalled. It turned out, he said, that “if you aired an episode of television, the rights will vest in perpetuity.” As in, any episode of television at all. And so one mysterious night in 2015—just before the rights to the books were scheduled to return to Jordan’s widow—an episode aired on FXX at 1:30 a.m., halfheartedly adapting the first book’s prologue and starring, for some reason, Billy Zane. The show, such as it was, aired only once and was never seen again. “That’s not the prettiest way to do it,” Weber admitted. “But it cleaned up the rights.” (McDougal Rigney, who released an unhappy statement about this gambit at the time, has since come back into the fold as a consulting producer.)
This is one way to hold on to the rights. It sounds like it all was legal via an “obscure provision.” It would be interesting to hear more about why the provision was in the contract (was it considered a deterrent since it required a television episode to be made?), what was in the 1:30 AM episode, and how all the involved actors responded.
And if The Wheel of Time becomes a megahit in the vein of Game of Thrones, this will look like a necessary and genius move.